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Trevor Laws: Nothing off the top

Rama Gottumukkala | Friday, November 17, 2006

On a team where the hairstyle makes the man, Trevor Laws’ long, au naturel locks stand out with the best of them. Tom Zbikowski may have his Mohawk and Jeff Samardzija his shag, but Laws can admit to setting the trend with his mane.

“It’s a natural look, man,” Laws said with a laugh. “It’s nice and easy to take care of, so I like it.”

Except for a brief – and regrettable – period during his freshman year, the senior defensive tackle has kept his distinct look largely unchanged since his earliest days wearing the blue and gold.

As a freshman, his senior teammates buzzed down his hair to a clean shave. For Victor Abiamiri, Laws’ roommate and a fellow defensive lineman, that story remains a fond memory – one that reveals as much about Trevor the person as it does Laws the football player.

“He had the hair exactly the way he has it now,” Abiamiri said. “[I remember] all the seniors that cut his hair, and how sad he was and how funny he made it by turning it around.

“He made a negative thing into a positive thing. That’s Trevor in a nutshell. He’ll take things that might not be going his way and turn them into a positive.”

Service with a smile

With a geniality his teammates love and admire, Laws overcame his Samson moment with a smile. Still, he can barely comprehend that his Irish career may be coming to a close.

“Time flies, it really does. I can’t believe that I’m a senior [with] some big choices coming up here,” Laws said. “It’s just all about enjoying it, man, these moments. You’ve got a short time here, so just try to enjoy it while you’re doing it.”

Laws’ easy smile and cheerful disposition have made him popular among his teammates and his coaches. When he’s not terrorizing the opposing team’s backfield, Laws can often be spotted laughing and cracking jokes on the sidelines.

“It’s real important for me, in all facets of my life, to enjoy what I’m doing,” Laws said. “Especially during games and on the sidelines with all your boys, it’s hard not to have a good time for me.”

While the average defensive lineman seems to scowl twice as often as he smiles, staying loose and enjoying the game remains one of Laws’ priorities – much to the delight of his teammates.

“I think Trevor’s kindhearted, fun-loving personality rubs off on everybody,” Abiamiri said. “If things are going tough, he has a good way of making a joke about things. Anytime I’m around him, I always find that I’m laughing at him or laughing at myself or laughing at anything, you know.”

In fact, Laws probably smiles too much, jokes defensive line coach Jappy Oliver. Oliver has seen Laws grow close with the rest of the defensive line over the last few years. Aided by their chemistry on and off the field, Laws and his linemates have become a steady rock for the Irish defense.

“I think that’s why I’ve enjoyed this group so much, because they’re always ragging on each other – I get on them for something, they get on me. It’s a great mix. Trevor’s one of the characters of the group,” said Oliver, pausing for emphasis. “Probably the character.”

Oliver isn’t the only member of the Notre Dame football family to use the word “character” to define Laws.

“When I first met Trevor, he was the same way he is now,” sophomore middle linebacker Maurice Crum said. “So I was like, ‘Man, who is this character here? Is this guy ever serious?’ But once I saw him on the field in play, I was like, ‘I see when he gets serious.'”

‘A great technician’

As a person, Laws has changed little from his freshman year – he’s still smiling. But on the field, his progression over the last three years has been hard to ignore.

“From the first time I met him till now, he’s grown as a person and as a football player,” Oliver said. “He’s getting better and better.”

A highly touted recruit coming out of high school, Laws was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Minnesota and a USA Today first-team All-American. Laws enjoyed his role as a two-way starter, contributing to the stat sheet and his team from three different positions – fullback, linebacker and defensive lineman.

But like most two-play athletes in high school, he had to face the harsh reality of life as a defensive end – the only touches he’d get would be ones he’d have to work the hardest for.

“It was tough knowing that I had to give up touching the ball every now and then. But I looked in the mirror and knew that I wasn’t going to be a running back forever,” Laws joked. “I tried to enjoy what I could in high school.”

Focusing on technique and strength, Laws has steadily tapped the potential of his 6-foot-1, 283-pound frame at one of the toughest positions in football.

“One of his strengths is that he’s a great technician, takes pride in it, and he’s just done a good job for us,” Oliver said.

That attention to detail served Laws well in another high school sport – wrestling. Although he calls football “his first passion,” Laws had every reason to consider attending a top-notch wrestling program like Iowa or Minnesota.

He helped his Apple Valley High team to three consecutive state titles as a sophomore, junior and senior. He finished his career with a 142-5 record (49-0 his junior year) that made him a three-time All-American and the No. 1 heavyweight wrestler in the nation.

“I took up wrestling to improve my football skills, actually,” Laws said. “I also love wrestling, but I always knew that if I was good enough to make it in football, it would prepare me in terms of agility.”

Laws’ teammates are no strangers to the tackle’s shifty moves on the mat. Senior offensive lineman John Sullivan – another nationally ranked heavyweight wrestler in high school – is a prime target for the occasional rumble for old time’s sake

While these throwdowns are more infrequent nowadays, Laws has made his wrestling supremacy loud and clear.

“They can’t touch me,” he joked.

Living the great outdoors

A proud native of Apple Valley, Minn., Laws exudes a Midwestern warmth he credits to his family and friends. An admitted outdoorsman, he enjoys camping, wakeboarding and summer snowboarding in the off-season.

As the middle of three children, Laws fondly remembers his first brushes with football – in the front yard with his two brothers.

“My family’s real close and we’re always doing something as a family. They’re a big part of my life,” Laws said.

Both of his siblings attended the University of Minnesota, where his younger brother is still an undergraduate.

As for Laws, a marketing major, entering the workforce is still a few years out depending on how long he pursues a professional career in football. Beyond the gridiron, his dreams revolve around sports marketing.

“I’ve been looking into that lately; maybe help marketing for a pro team or something like that,” Laws said. “It’s pretty interesting.”

For now, though, he’s still got time left in South Bend. When Laws gets nostalgic, his most vivid memories are those involving the deafening roar of a crowd, whether it was at a road contest down in Tennessee his sophomore year or playing spoiler to a top-10 Michigan team at home.

“One of the first games I played in was versus Michigan [in 2004],” Laws said. “Every-body rushed the field and I got in for the game. I got a [tackle for loss] like one of my first few plays in there and I remember going crazy, so that was a big moment for me.”

Iron chef, animated warrior

With the last two games of the season – and possibly the end of his collegiate career – looming, Laws has made a point of noticing the little things about his life at Notre Dame, whether it’s in the huddle or relaxing with his teammates.

“Every time you go out on the field … you remember those little moments within the game,” Laws said. “They are so numerous, but it’s hard to recollect right now. Looking beside you and knowing you have guys that you can count on so much is a great thing.”

Laws hasn’t yet made up his mind about returning for a fifth year, saying that a lot will depend on projections of where he’ll end up in the NFL Draft. For that reason alone, his teammates and coaches are savoring the remaining time they’ll have with him. Even if those memories involve serving up a good meal, another of Laws’ many talents.

“One great thing I can say about him is that he’s a great cook,” Abiamiri said. “He whips up some good pasta at times … He’s got some good eats.”

As for Laws’ best dish? Abiamiri doesn’t hesitate.

“Probably his barbecue chicken with baked beans and corn bread. He does that pretty good,” he said.

Whether it’s his play on the field, his antics off it or his excursions as a wrestler, chef and prankster, it’s clear that Laws will be missed when he hangs up his gold helmet – by his teammates, the fans and the program in general, according to Oliver.

“That personality is contagious, now,” Oliver said. “Because when somebody’s down or they’re hurting, if you’ve got somebody who’s got a great spirit about them and can put a smile on somebody’s face, that picks them up. That makes them practice harder and work harder.

“We’ll miss a lot of that, because he’s contagious.”